With government orders winding down, Canadian shipbuilders are looking outside the country for prospective buyers.

"This industry is really reinventing itself toward the commercial side," said Andre Lafond, president of the Shipbuilding Association of Canada. "It's sharpening its bid proposals to win Canadian commercial and export orders."Some builders hope to get backing from the Export Development Corp., a federal agency that helps with financing and insurance to support foreign sales. There have been "very preliminary" discussions, a corporation spokesman said Monday.

Mr. Lafond said orders from Canada's military have fallen off. Modernization of Canada's Tribal class destroyers is complete and only two of 12 frigates remain to be finished at Saint John Shipbuilding in New Brunswick.

"We have to look at the commercial market both in Canada and abroad to sustain the type of activity we've had in the past," Mr. Lafond said.

The export market is a tough place to compete. Mr. Lafond said his association's last evaluation of assistance to foreign yards found that six or seven major builders received direct and indirect aid totaling $7 billion to $9 billion a year.

"That gives an indication of what Canadian industry must compete against," he said. There is no support program in Canada dedicated specifically to the shipbuilding industry, although shipyards can apply for EDC programs available to all manufacturers.

Rod Giles, a spokesman for the corporation, said any potential exporter with a deal could be considered for help.

Mr. Giles mentioned discussions have been going on with Saint John Shipbuilding.

It has been a decade since a Canadian builder sold a commercial vessel overseas, but both Saint John Shipbuilding and MIL Davie Inc. of Quebec have been negotiating recently with potential foreign customers.